Although illness, death, loss and grief are all natural parts of life, many of us do not have the skills or the wherewithal to deal with the fear and sorrow that these experiences elicit. For the person confronting a serious illness or the family members who are inextricably involved, knowing what to do, how to feel, what to say or what not to say is often one big painful blur.
To help clarify that muddle of emotions, Tishkofet has a team of professionals dedicated to opening a sincere and sensitive dialogue that addresses the value of candidly exploring serious illness and end-of-life issues. The national nonprofit organization was founded in 2000 by Dr. Benjamin and Dvora Corn.
Dr. Corn is chairman of Radiation Oncology at Tel Aviv Medical Center-Ichilov Hospital; Dvora, his wife, serves as Tishkofet's executive director.
Two days a week, clinical psychologist Sandra Lozowick, 50, volunteers her time and professional acumen to see adult clients at the Tishkofet-Ma'agan Jerusalem Support Center, located on the lush grounds of the Goldstein Youth Village.
"It is a personal program in a way," says Lozowick, as each individual's needs are different and must be approached in a way that is appropriate for them. The objective is to help people live their lives to the fullest - whatever length of time that will be.
For those who are suffering from a chronic illness, Lozowick helps them accept that reality and learn to live with it in as positive and productive a way as possible. If someone has a severe or terminal illness, she helps the person reach the point where he or she can enjoy and appreciate each day.
To enhance their enjoyment opportunities, the Tishkofet-Ma'agan program offers classes in such areas as painting, yoga, dance and movement, which help people express themselves and be productive. There is also a wide range of programs for professionals, as well as patients and families, such as retreats to idyllic locations in Israel.
Family and friends provide vital support, says Lozowick. Very often, people close to the patient - or the patient himself - try to "protect" each other from how they feel. "But that just makes the patient feel isolated and alone," she stresses. People feel much more supported if they can share their thoughts and emotions. That doesn't mean they have to broadcast it to the world, but close friends and family should be told. "If it's out in the open, then others are not so uncomfortable about it and energy isn't wasted on keeping it a secret," says the veteran psychologist who has been doing such work for the past 22 years.
On the other hand, "Sometimes people don't say the things they want to
say or don't know how," she adds. For someone who is ill, Lozowick says it is very important to help him/her say "I love you" or "I'm sorry." In doing so, they create family relationships that are richer and more complete.
In that regard, a key question couples ask is if they should tell the children that one of the parents is sick. Lozowick's answer is resolutely "Yes," but in an age- and personality-appropriate fashion. She cites several reasons: They deserve to know; it's important for them to be told that something is wrong; they usually sense that something's wrong, anyway; if a parent isn't honest with them, they'll lose trust in him or her; and if it's not discussed, the children will think the situation is too terrible to talk about and their imaginations will run wild, says the mother of three.
Another important aspect of the assistance Lozowick provides through Tishkofet is to find out what each client's fears are and to help them work through their apprehensions. Such fears can include fear of a treatment's debilitating side effects; fear of rejection; and fear of the illness returning. Lozowick points out that being diagnosed with a serious illness is not necessarily a death sentence. Today, she says, people can live long and productive lives, citing a more than 65 percent success rate in cases of cancer.
At the other end of the spectrum, Lozowick helps clients deal with grief and loss. "It's natural and important to grieve for a loved one," she says, "as long as one can eventually separate oneself from the deceased."
If they can't, she helps people adapt to the world without their loved one and gradually let go of their bereavement.
It is also important for people to know what to expect, she says. "It's normal to think that the loved one is still there, that they will call or walk in the door. I assure my clients that it's very common, and that makes it easier for them," she says.
Overall, Lozowick says it is a privilege to be involved with such an organization where she can use her skills to help others and work in a positive, uplifting atmosphere. It is very gratifying, she says, to be able to help make a life fuller or an impending death easier and engender deeper, more satisfying relationships within families.